Numbers 2. Report of Lieutenant Nicolas Bowen,
Topographical Engineers, U. S. Army.
CAMP NEAR COLD HARBOR, VA.,
May 25, 1862.
GENERAL: In accordance with orders received from you I proceeded yesterday morning (24th instant), with Captain McMillan, Second U. S. Infantry; Captain Forsyth, Eighteenth U. S. Infantry; Lieutenant Custer, Fifth U. S. Cavalry; Messrs. Churchill and Humphreys, attaches of the Corps of Topographical Engineers, and an escort of the Fourth Michigan, Colonel Woodbury commanding, and a squadron of the Second U. S. Cavalry, Captain Gordon commanding, to make a reconnaissance of the Chickahominy River between New Bridge and a point about 2 miles above. We proceeded to a Mr. Hogan's house, and from there, under cover of the woods, we reached a point, about 200 yards from the river. Near this point, about half a mile above the bridge, Lieutenant Custer, Messrs. Churchill, Humphreys, and myself had found a good ford and had crossed the river on the previous day (23d). About 60 men were deployed as skirmishers, dashed out of the woods at a double-quick, half the number crossing the river, the whole forming a line perpendicular to the river, and moving down toward the bridge, the main body moving by the flank parallel to the river. About 300 yards from the crossing we found the enemy and charged them. Captain Gordon, with his squadron, now made a charge down to the bridge, to try to cut off the enemy, who were on the other side of the river. He was not able to effect this. The bridge was burned and the for not suitable for cavalry at this point. The enemy could by seen on the opposite side running at double-quick, deployed as skirmishers, and not 30 yards from us.
The balance of four companies of the Fourth Michigan were immediately thrown over the river and formed a line parallel to the stream. As our men had all moved at a double-quick, we were thus enabled to cut off a number of the enemy. Our men crossed under a severe fire the water in places being up to their armpits, obliging them to take off their cartridge boxes and hold them above their heads.
Our whole line was now formed in a ditch on the opposite side of the stream, this ditch being a portion of a fence, and more than kneedeep in water.
We covered the bridge and drove the enemy back beyond musket range, when they opened upon us with artillery. The enemy, strongly re-enforced, advanced upon us, but we held him in check till our ammunition gave out. No re-enforcements coming to our aid, and the object of the reconnaissance being accomplished, it was deemed advisable to withdraw our troops. This was done in most excellent order under a fire artillery and musketry, the men carrying across a deep stream everything from the field excepting the dead of the enemy. They treated the enemy with the greatest kindness, giving the wounded their water-proof coats and blankets, the want of which was felt during severe rain that lasted the whole time of the reconnaissance.
All of the officers and men were exposed to a severe fire of musketry and part of the time to that of artillery. The action lasted over four hours. The strength of the enemy, from the accounts of the prisoners taken, was one brigade, under General Semmes. Two regiments of this brigade were driven back a mile or more by four companies of the